Winter Dreams by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1922
by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1922
"Winter Dreams" rehearses the themes of F. Scott Fitzgerald's best-known novel, The Great Gatsby, reveals his obsessive preoccupation with the power of material wealth, and anticipates the tragedy of his own truncated career and life. The work covers the period in the life of its principal character, Dexter Green, from age 14 to age 32. At the age of 14 Dexter is resourceful, energetic, and optimistic. At the age of 32 he is disillusioned, depressed, and overwhelmed by a profound sense of loss. Life has lost its glow, and despite his relative youthfulness it will never regain its a earlier sense of promise. The events that influence his radical change in outlook are the subject of the story.
Fitzgerald skillfully arranges the story's action in six sections, alternating between summary and incident to cover a period of 18 years. The first section focuses on a particular incident. Four years pass between the first and the second section, which summarizes a five-year period of Dexter's life. The third section concentrates on one incident. Sections four and five summarize, respectively, the following two years and one year of Dexter's life. Seven years pass between section five and the final one, which focuses on a single incident. The six sections are connected by an emphasis on Dexter's relationship with Judy Jones. The incidents in sections one, three, and six represent the stages of Dexter's attraction, involvement with, and disengagement from Judy.
The opening scene introduces us to an enterprising, middle-class Midwestern boy who earns spending money during the summers by working as a caddie for the rich at the local country club. This is the practical side of Dexter, who is valued by the club members because he never loses golf balls. But there is another side to him, the side whose "winter dreams" focus on the power, the status, and the privileges of the rich. The dreams inspire adolescent fantasies of defeating club members at golf, driving up to the clubhouse in a luxury automobile, and displaying his diving talents on the club raft. The dreams are both vitalized and threatened in the first scene by Judy Jones. Even at the age of 11, she has a magnetic energy, beauty, and passion, and Dexter is mesmerized. From the moment he sees her, she becomes the embodiment of all of the qualities he aspires to. Ordered to caddie for her, he instinctively realizes that to do so would be the end of his dreams. Instead, he quits his job as a caddie. Dexter wants to possess Judy, not cater to her.
His first opportunity comes nine years later, after college and a year of establishing himself in business. At the age of 23 Dexter is a polished young man who has gone to a prestigious eastern university to learn how to act, talk, and dress like the rich. His successful laundry business uses this knowledge to cater to the clothing tastes of the elite. At the same club where he used to caddie, Dexter meets Judy again. Now "arrestingly beautiful," she encourages his advances, and they become romantically involved. Dexter's dreams seem on the verge of fulfillment, but his dreams are more complex and more elusive than they initially appear to be. Dexter seeks more than material wealth. He is not a fortune hunter. He wants to experience to the fullest extent possible "the richness of life," an elevated, even transcendent, sense of what is fine and rare and valuable. To Dexter, Judy personifies these more ethereal goals. She is the epitome "of flux, of intense life, of passionate vitality." But in the ups and downs of their relationship over the next three years, Fitzgerald chronicles Dexter's grand failure in understanding that his perception of Judy represents. The rich young woman he idealizes is restless, bored, spoiled, fickle, and extremely unhappy. Wealth has not given her the best that life has to offer. It has merely awakened in her at an earlier age a keen sense of life's limitations, compromises, and failures. She moves desperately from one lover to the next, seeking the same impalpable quality of richness Dexter is searching for.
Although their relationship eventually ends, Dexter is not willing to give up his dream. In the seven years that pass between their breakup and the final scene of the story, he moves East, and, after military service during World War I, he becomes a wealthy New York businessman. But in a casual conversation in his office, a Midwestern business associate informs him that Judy is married to a drunken philanderer who mistreats her. He also states that she is "nice" and likable but plain and passive.
Dexter is stunned by these observations. As long as he could maintain a vision of Judy as the embodiment of genteel youth and beauty, he could continue to believe in an attainable ideal of power, freedom, and beauty. Now he sees himself as he is, a 32-year-old bachelor with no intimate relationships, locked into a pattern of mechanically accumulating money. The green and open spaces of his days on a golf course in Minnesota are gone, replaced by the constricting, cold, gray cement and steel of a skyscraper. As he contemplates "the country of illusion, of youth, of the richness of life" he has left behind, he experiences a shattering sense of loneliness and emptiness.
Like Jay Gatsby, Dexter aims high. But as his materialistic pursuits converge with his idealism, they become crosscurrents in conflict with one another. Dexter makes a lot of money, but he never achieves his winter dreams. In this respect he is the prototypical American success story, the person who seeks but fails to find spiritual fulfillment in material wealth. At the end of The Great Gatsby the narrator, Nick Carraway, looks over the shore of Long Island that is now dotted with gaudy mansions and reflects upon this American dream. For the early explorers, as they came ashore, this "fresh, green breast of the new world" represented "the last and greatest of all human dreams," for they were "face to face for the last time in human history with something commensurate to the human capacity for wonder." The wonder of America, of life itself, has passed for Dexter like a dream.